Subjective Objectivity – The Blog of The Reasonable Man

November 9, 2010

Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men. Men with waterboards

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 2:31 pm

James Delingpole, reading from Decision Points, memoirs of George W. Bush, notes this paragraph:

Of the thousands of terrorists we captured in the years after 9/11, about a hundred were placed into the CIA program. About a third of those were questioned using enhanced techniques. Three were waterboarded.

The information the detainees revealed constituted more than half of what the CIA knew about al-Qaeda. Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American military and diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States.

Perhaps this is sloppy writing and maybe he goes on to underscore the point in a later passage, but I don’t see Bush actually drawing a straight line between the waterboarded terrorists and the information that supposedly saved lives. The “detainees” as I read it, refer to the group detained as a whole”. Maybe it’s implied, but if one of the biggest critiques of my Presidency was that I engaged in torture, and that it was either ineffective or unnecessary, I would be advancing a positive case that it actually worked. In other words, the above paragraph would read something like:

Of the thousands of terrorists we captured in the years after 9/11, about a hundred were placed into the CIA program. About a third of those were questioned using enhanced techniques. Three were waterboarded, and one [or more] of those three provided crucial intelligence that prevented an attack on a high value target.

Again, maybe it’s a simple omission, but you’d think a guy who got all emo and defensive over a rapper dissing him would be slightly more assertive here in defending this part of his record. And no one can accuse Bush of being particularly nuanced but then nor will anyone accuse Bush of being the only person to have had a hand in writing that paragraph.

One of the reasons why I never came close to believing the 9/11 conspiracy theories (aside from the fact that nearly such theories are usually batshit insane) is that if there was evidence that could prove the case being made, it would be probable that it could be proferred. Those raising the assertions ought to be required to adduce that evidence, or else their assertions can’t be proven and shouldn’t be accepted, especially when there’s overwhelming evidence and testimony to the contrary. The same obtains here, and I think the reason why no such assertion has made its way into print, is because it cannot be backed up by evidence.

Of course, George W. Bush doesn’t believe that waterboarding is torture. I didn’t think that either, though that’s mostly because at first blush it sounds like a watersport. But these days, I’m happy to call a technique used by the Spanish Inquisition, the Gestapo and the Khmer Rouge, usuallly designed to force confessions, “torture”.

(The preceeding was my main point, but please read on if you want a lengthy rebuttal to James Delingpole…)

Call me a crazy liberal. Actually, James Delingpole does, implying directly stating that because I oppose the waterboarding torture of terrorist suspects, I’m happy for “a thousand liberals” to die. I want to murder liberals! Or people or both! (there really is a difference in Delingpole’s little head).

Delingpole states, apropos of “three were waterboarded”:

Hmm. So that’ll be three as in the Three Stooges, the Three Graces, the Three Amigos, the Trinity, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the number of Avengers, the number of Goodies, and the number of protagonists in the popular Seventies children’s drama Hector’s House. Whichever way you’d spin it, I’d suggest that three is not a very large number of evil terrorists to have subjected to deeply unpleasant, but not fatal or permanently damaging torture in order to gain vital information that could save many more lives from future planned atrocities. It is, for example, 49 fewer than the number of innocents murdered in the 7/7 tube bombings; 199 fewer than the number killed in the Bali bombings; and 2933 fewer than the number of people murdered on 9/11.

Pretty much everything Delingpole says in this paragraph is contingent on those three being subject to torture being the ones who revealed the key information. As I note above, this by no means clear either from the evidence or from the guy defending the action to torture them. And absent any evidence that waterboarding has saved lives, beyond its advocates’ vague testimony, this line of argument should really be treated highly skeptically by anyone who is… you know – sane.

But even if we accept that one or more of these three did provide the critical information, what makes you think that these plots would have actually succeeded, but for the torture? Remember, all the foiled plots of the last few years have generally been either coups of the intelligence agencies, or largely plots that particulary credible. The reason for 9/11 and 7/7 is that we simply didn’t see it coming in that way because of intelligence failings (usually not looking in the right place), not because we didn’t torture someone. The question may be asked “if you could torture someone and that would have prevented 9/11, would you?” the answer from me is an unequivocal “yes”, but I can’t even begin to imagine a scenario where that would actually be the case (that isn’t the plot two season four of 24). I’d also acknowledge that I’d broken a law and submit myself to the criminal courts for prosecution. But in reality, this is a fantastical set of facts to assume.

Seriously. In the reams of investigations into 9/11 was there one instance where it was noted that had we tortured some guy, the whole thing could have been prevented? Oh, wait, there wasn’t. I guess you just got to torture a bunch of people before they’ll tell you that information. You know, cast the net out wide. Again, there is nothing to suggest that torture alone prevented these plots becoming reality.

But obviously, I know that all the liberals reading this will know better. They will all be able to tell me, hands on heart, that they would happily have sacrificed both their own lives and those of their children for the unalienable right of murderous Al-Qaeda terrorists not to have any form of unpleasantness inflicted on them by Western authorities.

This somewhat misrepresents the non-sociopathic liberal position. The liberal position is not “better a thousand [people] die than one Al-Qaeda terrorist is tortured”, it is “better that a thousand people die than torture becomes a routine instrument in our policing or intelligence gathering”. Let’s say we can definitely prove that torture is effective. Why stop at waterboarding? If lives will be saved at the expense of three guys’ fingernails, or even kneecaps, isn’t that worth it? Maybe we can threaten their families with death!

Better yet, why not waterboard suspects in other criminal cases (only the really serious ones to start with, mind), after all it’s not permanent or lasting in terms of damage done (except for the cases where it is) and if it can prevent another crime, then surely that’s the greater good, right? We can even do a rough calculation – in order to prevent or solve any potential/theoretical crime, society is able commit a crime of equal or lesser severity to compel the information from the suspect.

That may be something of a reductio ad absurdum but it more closely reflects the actual liberal position that inflicting protracted torture is is an utter abrogation of our principles and the worst possible way in which can purport to protect ourselves in a free society. Certain standards of behaviour have to be absolute, or else we’ll let the standard slip the next time, and slip and slip and slip, until we no longer remember what the standard was, or why it existed. With torture, the dehumanisation of the individual in custody according to information he may have rather than crimes he has committed ought to be utterly unacceptable to anyone who purports to believe in freedom. 

But all that doesn’t even matter if, as liberals believe, torture doesn’t even work and notes that it has historically been used for extracting confessions, not gathering reliable intelligence. All of this adds up to the basic proposition that we do not torture, under any circumstances. Not for Delingpole who goes on to raise a security theatre non-sequiter, probably to distract us from the implausibility of what can laughingly be called an argument:

And I salute their principles, really I do. It’s just that I hope, when I fly to New York tomorrow, they’re nowhere near the passenger lists of the flight I’m taking. Guys, I implore you, fly Dhimmi Air instead. There the body-searches are cursory and determinedly non-discriminatory. And in the likely event that your plane does blow up half way across the Atlantic, you will at least have the consolation of knowing as the tiny parts of your body drift oceanwards that you and all your fellow impeccably liberal passengers have kept the moral high ground to the last.

The likely event? It would certainly be a first, so how is it likely? Does James Delingpole know more than he’s letting on about a terrorist threat transatlantic flight tomorrow? Perhaps we should waterboard him. After all, it’s little more than a mild inconvenience. Perhaps he’ll admit that global warming isn’t a hoax while we’re at it.

Of course, Delingpole doesn’t actually believe in freedom, despite his laughable protestations that he’s a libertarian. He’s a sociopath whose sole concern in life isn’t that society’s freedoms and fellow citizens’ livelihoods are protected, just his. It’s not that he thinks that there are moral absolutes that we can violate in certain exceptional circumstances, it’s that he doesn’t believe those absolutes actually exist or that there is anything particularly important about human life and dignity beyond his own comfort.

I believe it was Voltaire that said “Well then – fuck him”.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable


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